President Biden: Our new health crisis is guns. It’s time to act | Mike Kelly

Gun Rights


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Dear President Biden,

America has a public health crisis. It’s called mass shootings.

It’s time for you to act.

The bloodshed of the last week is no longer shocking. Mass shootings are now a deafening, bang-bang-bang echo of a problem that has persisted far too long.

In recent days, death came to a Walmart, a gay night club and a college bus returning from a field trip. But this bloodshed is not just a reminder of what we’ve endured; it’s a precursor of what will surely come.

America knows that. So do you.

In the coming month, America will commemorate the 10th anniversary of the deaths of 20 first graders and six adult staffers at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. It was a horrific moment. I know. I drove there and wrote about it.

Surely, as this anniversary approaches, the television news will be awash with video of memorial services. Various political leaders — you included — will make heartfelt statements. The parents of the kids will recount their pain in tearful interviews. Hollow messages of “thoughts and prayers” will swirl.

And then, just as quickly, it will end — as if our nation will just switch emotional channels, go to the equivalent of commercial break and move on. Nothing will change except that another mass shooting will likely take place soon afterwards. Then, the cycle of memorials, statements, TV coverage and prayers will repeat itself.

You know the drill. Everybody does. America is stuck. The world’s most powerful nation is captive to a lifestyle that allows far too many troubled young men — yes, most are young, male and emotionally unbalanced — to take out their pathology on innocent people with firearms designed for cops and soldiers.

What we know:Gunman in Virginia Walmart shooting ‘was going hunting,’ witness says; motive for attack still unknown

Colorado Springs:Club Q attack no surprise for extremism experts who saw looming threat, decades-old pattern

Charlottesville in grief:University of Virginia honors slain football players in memorial service on campus

We must call this a crisis

Something has to be done to break this vulgar, bloody pattern. That’s why I’m appealing to you.

Declare a public health crisis.

Yes, it seems like a giant step. Fox News, the spineless MAGA gang and legions of so-called suburban commandos who believe they should be allowed to carry guns in public will convulse into their expected rhetorical hissy fits along with the corrupt National Rifle Association. So what?

It’s time for something bold in the same manner of Lincoln, FDR and Reagan. This is your moment to step into history. How can you even think of running for re-election in 2024 if you won’t face this crisis now?

Simply put: The fear of getting murdered in America has become the new normal. That’s not healthy.

Dozens of U.S. Congressional representatives are now wearing bulletproof vests when they appear in public. Schools now regularly stage “mass shooter drills.” Synagogues and churches now hire armed guards just to keep an eye on the front doors. The same is true of retail stores. And let’s not forget some of the poorest sections of our cities where gunfire is the sound of the street. Children are now shot by stray bullets.

This is not what should happen in a nation that was founded on the premise of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

A fundamental problem is mental health of killers. Both sides of the nation’s debate over firearms agree on this. America’s health care apparatus is very good at fixing broken legs and repairing damaged brains and hearts. But our system of monitoring mental health and repairing broken souls is far behind.

We need to fix that — no doubt. But that problem is too complex to solve right now or to fix with a short term government Band Aid. In solving this health crisis, the nation needs to do some political triage and set priorities. First, stop the bleeding. Then deal with the deeper issues such as mental health.

Just before Thanksgiving, the Gun Violence Archive, a non-partisan clearinghouse based in Washington, D.C., reported that 607 mass shootings had taken place in America so far in 2022.

The archive defines mass shootings as any gun incident in which four people are shot excluding the shooter. Not everyone is killed in many of these incidents — which is why these incidents are not routinely reported. In other words, shootings are so normal now that our news media doesn’t even report them unless the death toll is significant.  

The good news is that the 2022 tally by the Archive is slightly behind the record-setting pace of 2021 when 690 mass shootings took place. The bad news is that this year’s tally is the second highest in U.S. history. And, in case you missed it, the pace averages to more than one mass shooting a day.

Doesn’t that define a public health crisis?

A major factor in mass shootings, police say, are the military-style, semi-automatic guns that are now the weapons of choice for killers. The old days when America’s so-called “sportsmen” went hunting with bolt action rifles and an occasional shotgun are ancient history.  Today, the big sellers in gun shops are semi-automatic rifles and pistols that were designed for U.S. soldiers and police. Gun makers are even producing semi-automatic military rifles for women with shorter stocks and painted in a variety of colors such as pink. The female market is considered ripe for gun profits.  

America, meanwhile, is already awash in semi-automatic guns.

Thanks to the National Rifle Association and its sycophants, these sorts of guns have been brazenly marketed for civilians, often through advertising that appeals to the urge among some to turn life into a war game or James Bond narrative where we carry guns to work in shoulder holsters or specially designed purses. Studying these advertisements in gun magazines is downright scary — and yet another reminder of the health crisis.

One lobbying group for gun makers estimates that 20 million military-style assault rifles are now in civilian hands. The numbers of semi-automatic pistols is far greater. Most of these gun owners are law-abiding folks, for sure. But facts are facts: these types of guns are used far too often in mass shootings. In a health crisis, the nation needs to face that.

These types of guns fire easily and hold magazines with enough bullets to wipe out a classroom without reloading. It’s no wonder that mass killers love these guns, whether it’s a gang killing in the Bronx or the murders in a gay nightclub in Colorado.

The chances of banning the sales of semi-automatic handguns and rifles is slim. Congress won’t vote for this kind of necessary legislation. And even if it did, there is still a major question of whether the U.S. Supreme Court would uphold such a law in light of its out-of-touch interpretation of a grammatically confusing Second Amendment that was written in an age of single-shot muskets.

Meanwhile, a special presidential order to temporarily ban sales of these guns would result in numerous court challenges, leading to — you guessed it — the Supreme Court.

Four executive orders could make a difference

Here, then, are four presidential orders you could issue today which might help.

First, ban the sale of body armor. From the murders of 10 people last May in a Buffalo grocery to the recent killings of five patrons at the gay nightclub in Colorado, the shooters wore body armor.  At the Buffalo’s Tops grocery, the killer’s body armor was enough to stop a gun shot from a retired police officer who worked as a security guard. The killer merely turned and murdered the guard.

The point here ought to be obvious and simple: Who needs body armor — except cops and soldiers? There is no reason for civilians to have it.

Second, ban the sales of all devices that allow just about anyone with a screwdriver and a wrench to convert a semi-automatic, military-style rifle into a machine gun. Such devices, which are routinely sold on the Internet, helped a mass killer in Las Vegas in 2017 fire more than 1,000 bullets into a crowd at a country music festival. The death toll in that shooting set records — 60 dead and 413 wounded.

Those numbers alone should have been enough tell us the gravity of our national health crisis.

Third, institute a national ban on the size of magazines for semi-automatic firearms. This columnist has suggested a limit of just six bullets per magazine. Critics in the gun lobby responded as if I was suggesting that we ban freedom of speech.

 Some states, such as New Jersey, whose gun laws are considered tough, limit magazines to 10 rounds. But these state-by-state regulations are useless when killers can simply cross into another state and buy larger magazines.

America needs a national ban.  

Fourth, limit and track the sales of ammunition nationwide. Here, in New Jersey, one gun shop is advertising a special sale of boxes of 1,000 bullets just in time for the holidays. I’ve shot semi-automatic handguns and rifles, and it’s easy to fire off 1,000 bullets — too easy, in fact. 

But allowing almost anyone to buy so many bullets in one trip to the gun shop is crazy as America faces such a crisis of mass shootings? Why not only ban large sales but also keep track of who is buying ammo? If we can electronically monitor trips across the George Washington Bridge, why can’t we keep an eye on bullets? As I’ve long argued, guns don’t kill people; bullets do.

These are just four possible solutions — all of them possible through presidential orders.

I realize the political risks here. A decade ago, as he neared the end of his second term, former President Barack Obama was urged by a variety of gun control advocates, including several from New Jersey, to sign similar presidential orders — or at least push for stronger gun laws in Congress. Obama balked, fearing that he might stir up the political hornet’s nest of gun rights proponents and, therefore, affect the 2016 presidential elections.

Well, we know what happened in the 2016 presidential election. And we know how the gun health crisis has worsened during the past six years.

The death cycle seems far too permanent now — perhaps a death spiral for America’s sense of personal peace in everyday life.

Nearly half-a-century ago, early on a Sunday after another Thanksgiving holiday, my phone rang.  One of my editors was on the line with news that a young man had returned home from college and murdered his mother, father and two younger brothers as they slept in their home in Montvale, New Jersey. I rushed out the door of my apartment and was one of the first reporters on the blood-spattered scene of what seemed to be a normal, peaceful suburban home. 

The killer, Harry De La Roche was just 18, an unhappy freshman at The Citadel in South Carolina. He’s now 64 and still in a New Jersey prison. His release has been continually denied because the parole board says he is unable to face what he did.

The truth is that De La Roche was deeply troubled. Like so many disturbed young men, he took out his frustrations on innocent people with a gun that was far too easy to find in his house. 

We have now passed yet another Thanksgiving, with more mass killings to mourn.

This needs to stop.

Mike Kelly is an award-winning columnist for NorthJersey.com as well as the author of three critically acclaimed non-fiction books and a podcast and documentary film producer. To get unlimited access to his insightful thoughts on how we live life in New Jersey, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.

Email: kellym@northjersey.com

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